Calling Kerry's bluff? Russian official floats plan to avert strike on Syria
Just hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-hand comment about how Syria could avert a military strike by turning over its chemical weapons program, Russia's foreign minister is proposing that the Assad regime do just that.
Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Russia will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.
"If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus," Lavrov said.
The plan could challenge Kerry over comments he made during an earlier press conference in London. Kerry said early Monday morning that if Bashar Assad wanted to defuse the crisis, "he could turn every single bit of his chemical weapons over to the international community" within a week.
But Kerry claimed that Assad "isn't about to do it" -- and an aide suggested the secretary was not being serious.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki clarified that Kerry "was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."
She added: "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons otherwise he would have done so long ago."
While the State Department tried to walk back Kerry's statement, Lavrov said he has already handed over the proposal and expects a "quick, and hopefully, positive answer."
"We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons," he said.
His statement followed media reports alleging that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who discussed Syria with President Obama during the group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg last week, sought to negotiate a deal that would have Assad hand over control of chemical weapons.
Speaking earlier in the day, Lavrov denied that Russia was trying to sponsor any deal "behind the back of the Syrian people."
As Russia claims to be trying to defuse the crisis, the U.S. Congress is poised to begin voting this week on a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.